Unfortunately, the Government Procurement Service seems to have reacted to the brow-beating our press has given successive governments over spending on private-sector suppliers and created a very cost-driven process – meaning places on the planning roster will go to agencies prepared to offer services at the lowest cost.
Yes, there are a couple of "exam" questions, but they’re neither specific enough nor do they allow agencies the time and space to demonstrate the quality of thinking that could justify paying a premium.
We understand the pressure they are under: the last government was justifiably criticised for the amount spent on both comms and consultants, and the nation’s coffers have rarely been in a more perilous state – which is not really true, but it’s all part of the narrative.
This race to the bottom will benefit big agencies and major networks at the expense of smaller, independent shops where, incidentally, I believe you often find the best planning smarts, as they stand to benefit more from implicit endorsement of their strategic credentials.
The race to the bottom will benefit big agencies and major networks at the expense of smaller shops
Historically, the COI media strategy roster was a hothouse of planning best practice and produced award-winning campaign after award-winning campaign. The unique nature of many of the briefs could be relied on to both test and stimulate the most sparky or experienced of planners, especially as, so often, it was the media that made the difference – think about the Metropolitan Police work and the anti-smoking campaign.
The GPS’s one-size-fits-all approach to procurement might work well for infrastructure and capital projects, but seems unlikely to result in Whitehall having access to the finest strategy minds in the business. It looks like it has been created by career politicians who understand theory but lack real-world experience.
The real shame is the process will prevent the GPS from delivering on its objective of being "committed to ensuring that small organisations and businesses can compete fairly with bigger companies for our contracts".
The big winners in this upcoming review are likely to come from the big networks, but the biggest loser might just be the British taxpayer.
Simon Wilden is the planning partner at Goodstuff